Girls basketball: Kennedy seniors take lead for '18-19 season
The life of a champion isn't easy.
After winning two of the past three 2A State Championships, the Kennedy girls basketball program has gone from scrappy underdogs to small school juggernauts in the span of a half decade.
Though little has changed organizationally for the Kennedy Trojans, the outward expectations for a perennial state title favorite can be overwhelming, and it requires a strong temperament to take the leadership mantle under such scrutiny.
Enter seniors Kalyssa Kleinschmit and Clarissa Traeger.
"They're quiet leaders," Kennedy co-head coach Peter Hall said. "But what they do on the court speaks volumes."
The lone seniors on this year's girls basketball team, Kleinschmit and Traeger have the unique perspective that comes from being the only players with two state championship medals at home. Kleinschmit and Traeger were both freshmen reserves on the 2016 title team. Two years later their roles were much more significant — Kleinschmit served as one of the team's primary playmakers, garnering Second Team All-State honors, while Traeger was one of the first players off the bench, leading the charge for Trojans' platoon of reserves.
This year, Traeger has joined Kleinschmit in the starting lineup, and the pair has taken to steering their teammates by example, absorbing everything that Hall and co-head coach Kerry Hall have taught and letting the results on the court speak.
"They just make people play better," Hall said. "They're very team-oriented. They're not selfish, but they also realize when they score, they know when to do it."
Kennedy sits at 5-0 to start the season after winning back-to-back wins over the weekend against Weston-McEwen and Monroe in the annual Kennedy Classic Tournament. The Trojans are currently ranked No. 1 among 2A schools, with all but one of their victories coming by double digits.
Hall points to the little things that have once again gotten the Trojans off to a hot start this year. Whether it's making an extra pass out of a double team to an uncovered teammate, covering for a defender who is caught out of position or simply making sure someone hustling down the court in transition gets the ball as reward for their effort, Traeger and Kleinschmit have been at the forefront of the team's success.
"I just think of them as really good basketball players and they understand the team concepts and that's why they're doing really well," Hall said.
A 5-foot-10 guard in the body of a forward, Kleinschmit was often forced to take a backseat to the team's glut of seniors last year. Much of the program's recent success has come due to the wealth of talent up and down the roster, allowing the coaches Hall to sub starters in and out of the lineup with little loss in production.
With those six seniors gone, the Kleinschmit saw an opening to take advantage of additional playmaking opportunities and has been one of the best players on the court night-in and night-out, averaging 16 points and 7.5 rebounds in the first two weeks of the season.
"The reason she started out the way she is, is that she has put in a tremendous amount of off-season work," Hall said. "We went out of her way to give her things to work on and she ran with it."
Although those numbers may not be particularly gaudy compared to some of her peers in the upper echelon of 2A girls basketball, they have come in limited minutes and have been particularly efficient.
"I think her awareness to know where she's good on the court sets her apart," Hall said. "A lot of kids just shoot the ball when they get the ball. She knows how to make moves to get to her spots where she's automatic."
Traeger may not possess the frenetic energy of Kennedy's past two championship point guards — Kaylin Cantu and Taylor Brown — but she relishes picking off passes all the same.
"For her size, you would not believe how aggressive she is," Hall said. "She just loves harassing people. She loves it."
It's a fun juxtaposition to Traeger's demeanor off the court. Hall didn't initially peg her as the aggressive type, but as Traeger continued to showcase her ballhawking skills during summer ball, practice and the opening of the season, he was eager to see how far she could take it.
"Here's a kid who has a killer instinct and we're going to embrace that and have everybody jump on board," Hall said. "I'm going to embrace those natural instincts that she has."
In Saturday's 52-37 win over Monroe in the title game of the Kennedy Classic, Traeger caught fire and had her best game of the season, going off for 16 points.
That kind of production is what the Trojans need early in the season. The Kennedy coaching staff has limited the minutes of Sophia Carley, last year's 2A State Co-Player of the Year, who is nursing a sore back coming off the long volleyball season. And with seven additional players either making their varsity debut or finding their way in expanded roles, it will be up to Kleinschmit and Traeger to take the lead and guide Kennedy through the early part of the season.
"They've been in the shadows," Hall said. "We knew how good they were and we've been grooming them to be where they are right now."
Kennedy was scheduled to open their league schedule on Tuesday against Western Christian and finishes the week with back-to-back road games at Santiam on Thursday and Valley Catholic on Friday.